Bruce Springsteen closes his 15-month world tour tonight and Wednesday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as more than just the biggest star in rock. He's shown that he has the potential to return rock to its role as social catalyst and to mobilize a new activist audience. On Friday, in the first of his four Coliseum shows, Springsteen showed where the emphasis should be, praising those who are working to improve conditions for the unemployed. "Without them," he told 83,000 fans, "what I do up here doesn't amount to more than words."
It's not surprising that Springsteen has been trivialized and misinterpreted--by everyone from the pro wrestlers who use "Born in the U.S.A." as a jingoistic jingle, to President Reagan, who attempted to suggest that they share values by citing what he called Springsteen's "message of hope."
On the contrary, Springsteen sees America through the eyes of the disillusioned and disenfranchised whose families, communities, livelihoods and very lives are falling apart. At the Coliseum, Springsteen made his usual eloquent plea for support of organizations aiding the unemployed, but he further radicalized his message with an implied endorsement of draft resistance, cautioning the "young people" in the audience that "blind faith in your leaders will get you killed" and specifically mentioning Central America before playing an explosive version of Edwin Starr's anti-war soul smash "War."
In the face of Springsteen's unprecedented success, the media have tried to find a sociological basis for his popularity. Newsweek speaks of the rock star as an "international symbol of America." Other commentators call him America's new "populist conscience" and "spirit."
But how does Springsteen's audience see him? Is he simply the latest pop sensation or is he touching a deeper nerve? Is he gaining his following through his integrity and social vision, or by wiggling his rear end and making his music increasingly catchy?
As the range of his constituency spreads, the responses to Springsteen become more varied--perhaps more shallow on the fringes, while deepening in intensity among the longtime faithful and committed newcomers. In an effort to explore the nature of the bond between Springsteen and his fans, Calendar's John Horn and John Voland spoke to a variety of fans at the Coliseum on Friday.
And here's how the fans see him. . .
Bruce Mocklin, 23, graduate student, Los Angeles:
"I think he's become part of the American Dream. I mean, he's been inducted--even if he hasn't really applied. There's all kinds of dark and light in what he's doing, but it's not a (phony) patriotic thing. It's real . And I think that's what people are responding to. It's not some critical concept Bruce is trying out."
Denise Yemawine, 19, waitress and student, Cypress:
"He represents a healthy reaction to all the flash and glitter that rock seems to be all about these days. He's not just a pop phenomenon--a temporary thing. He really delivers . . . straight-ahead, no nonsense rock 'n' roll. . . . The life he sings about isn't always pretty, and he's not really (blindly) patriotic 'cause he sees what kind of promises America's made and hasn't kept. He's exactly what rock needs: a conscience.
Jim Dobbs, 42, art history teacher, Cal Poly Pomona, Laguna Beach:
"His energy is wonderful and positive. Someone is finally speaking to 40-year-olds and Vietnam veterans. I think his message is totally accurate: that things aren't always as perfect as we would want them to be. A lot of people misperceive him. He's positive, but he's not celebrating the wonders of America. He's not jingoistic. It might be a flag that he's waving, but it's a tattered one."
Ric Middleton, 27, Palmdale:
"To me, he's a mom's apple pie sort of musician. He talks about middle-class America. He's from New Jersey, but I grew up in Ohio and I experienced the same things he sings about. They closed factories in our town, too. "
Kim Kleiber, 29, personnel director, Playa del Rey:
"It's terrific that he donates money to the food banks and the steelworkers and all that, but he's no patriotic hero or anything. He's a rocker, and this is a great rock 'n' roll show. That's why I'm here. This isn't a pep rally; it's a concert."
Diane Roland, 27, controller, Studio City:
"He delivers what he promises. There's no flash, but the songs talk about values . . . they're simple and direct."
Marlo Williams, 44, Captain, Ontario Fire Dept., Alta Loma:
"He's real. He stands for what America should be. He loves his country. We've got kids, and he's a good influence. He's a strong combination of both good music and a good personality. He does push-ups instead of drugs. I respect that."
Dianna Ogden, 30, housewife/student, Lawndale:
"He's totally motivating. He gives me a natural high. It's his music, his body. . . . And in his music, you can understand every word. It's simple and straightforward. He's a regular guy, not a superstar."
Michael Ogden, 30, sheet-metal mechanic, Lawndale: